Walking round the corner in East Berlin towards a pub, Thomas and Ben buzz with excitement as the mighty sound of singing German and English football fans echoes down the otherwise silent street. Both men, supporters of the English team Oldham Athletic, have travelled to Berlin to meet with a group of fans from Eintracht Frankfurt and to see the team play away at Hertha BSC.
Oldham is a club with a long history and has had many recent troubles on and off the pitch. The team has stagnated in League One for almost 20 years. Despite this there is a passionate following from the local people which creates a great atmosphere at the games and a strong community within the club. The club's die-hard fans can be found enjoying the wider football experience all over the world and the team is represented through its fans at most international tournaments. It was at a similar event 30 years ago in Paris that the friendship between Frankfurt and Oldham, or the Eagles and the Owls, began.
The two groups of supporters visit each other's grounds every few months, not just for football, but for social actives including (but not limited to) drinking lots of beer. Bernhard from Frankfurt talks of his passion for drinking real British ale, while John and Pete from Oldham were very happy to be allowed to drink inside the Olympia Stadium. It's a rare treat for the modern English football fan, as alcohol is prohibited in the seating areas of British stadiums.
Drinking together is a major part of the group's activities, but there is a much deeper significance to the fun. Laurence Smith from Oldham emotionally talks through his late night beer of how he has seen Bernhard's daughters growing up through his regular visits to Germany. They were all present at each other's weddings and, in short, the core group are old friends and the event has the atmosphere of an elated reunion.
The game was a boring end-of-season 0-0 draw in the rain, with both teams having nothing to play for, but this did not dampen the spirits of the fans. Frankfurt's Ultras gave the English a lesson in football support with choreographed crowd participation and a smoke and fireworks show, an event which would have cancelled the game had it happened in the UK. The Oldham lads are well known amongst the many thousands of travelling Frankfurt fans and often find themselves inundated with friendly greetings. In return, many from Oldham demonstrate their support by singing Frankfurt songs in fluent German, or at least what counts as fluent for Englishmen.
On one of the evenings, the Warschauer Strasse based pub which the Eagles and the Owls had called their home was attacked by local Berlin hooligans. Instead of the violent response you would expect of stereotypical English football fans, there was a sense of disappointment. These fans are setting the example of ideal football fandom. It is a globally loved sport so ought to have friendly international supporters, far away from the attitudes made famous by the hooligans of old.